Civil society dialogue between the EU and candidate countries
This communication sets out a policy framework for the development of a civil society dialogue between the EU and candidate countries. It aims to better inform public opinion in the Member States about the impact of accessions and in the candidate countries about the history, functioning and values of the Union. This dialogue will progress and evolve in parallel with accession negotiations and may require re-orientation.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, of 29 June 2005, on civil society dialogue between the European Union and candidate countries [COM(2005) 290 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
The Commission aims to overcome the problem that arose during the previous enlargement of citizens being neither sufficiently informed nor prepared. It plans to strengthen contacts and exchange of experience, and ensure better mutual awareness and understanding by developing a civil society dialogue with Turkey and Croatia.
The Commission will employ the broadest definition possible of civil society *. Municipalities and other local communities will also be included in the dialogue.
The approach to dialogue employed in Croatia will be different to the one in Turkey. Greater emphasis will be placed on relations with the latter. The Commission proposes strengthening ongoing activities and complementing them with new ones.
Strengthening ongoing activities
The EU has been working with Croatian civil society in the context of the stabilisation and association process (the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Croatia entered into force on 1 February 2005). This dialogue benefits from Croatia's participation in Community programmes such as the 6th RTD Framework Programme and Tempus.
National and European institutions have already developed bilateral activities with Turkey which fall under the scope of the civil society dialogue.
The EU currently finances a number of activities aimed at:
- developing civil society by means of a programme to strengthen the expansion of NGOs in Turkey, the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights EIDHR and the pre-accession financial assistance programme;
- fostering close links with social partners and civil society organisations in the areas of social dialogue, employment and social affairs, with particular focus on labour law, gender equality and anti-discrimination;
- enhancing Turkish participation in Community education and training programmes, namely Socrates, Youth and Leonardo da Vinci. Additional financing from the pre-accession funds is envisaged to complement the proposed programme grants. In the university sector, Turkish students studying to improve their expertise in the area of European integration benefit from the Jean Monnet Scholarship programme. The Commission intends to increase the scholarship funding allocation and look into other related initiatives, such as extending the programme to EU students wishing to study in Turkey;
- supporting Marie Curie Actions which offer a set of structured mobility schemes for researchers. These actions are geared to the development and transfer of research competencies, the consolidation and widening of career prospects for researchers and the promotion of excellence in European research.
Dialogue will evolve over the long term in line with the needs expressed by civil society. The Commission expects the actors of civil society to play an active role in conducting the dialogue.
Civil society dialogue in Croatia will evolve in the light of the deepening of EU-Croatia relations, the strengthening of regional cooperation and the further development of reconciliation with the region. The Commission would like to see dialogue focus on the practical impact of the accession process and proposes encouraging contacts between social partners, the media, NGOs and religious communities in the EU and Croatia.
The Commission is planning a range of activities aimed at enhancing EU-Turkey relations in the area of:
- long-term partnerships between organisations. The establishment of a grant scheme to assist Turkish civil society organisations in cofinancing bilateral exchange projects with counterparts based in the EU. This is aimed in particular at professional organisations and social partners. Priority will be given to projects encouraging sustainable relations between organisations;
- gender equality. The EU aims to strengthen the position of women in Turkish society and to tackle other issues such as domestic violence. The Commission will seek to include gender equality and the equal opportunity dimension in all its activities;
- business relations. This involves the creation of an EU-Turkey Business Council to operate as a forum of the main EU companies active in Turkey and their Turkish counterparts, with a view to acting as a link between European institutions and the local business associations in the interest of further developing trade and investments;
- cooperation between local communities. The Commission wishes to support twinning between EU and Turkish cities and include local communities from remote and disadvantaged regions in activities implemented within the framework of the civil society dialogue. Turkey could participate in the Community " Citizens for Europe " programme proposed for 2007-2013, designed to promote active European citizenship;
- youth, university and professional exchanges. The Commission will evaluate the efficiency of mechanisms implemented in this area and examine additional projects. It plans to encourage closer institutional cooperation between universities in the EU and in Turkey, in view of setting up independent academic institutions open to students from both sides and supporting joint research and publications;
- culture and the media. The Commission will do its utmost to encourage an open public debate. Internet-supported platforms and a website will be set up for this purpose. The Commission will work with Member States' cultural organisations to support activities targeting language learning and the promotion of interpretation and translation from and into Turkish. It will part-finance television programmes providing information on European and Turkish societies. Partnership projects between television companies from both sides aimed at producing joint programmes will also be supported. The Commission will give priority to direct contacts between professional organisations of journalists through the creation of a programme of seminars involving journalists from the EU and Turkey.
The Commission points out that civil society dialogue will also focus on religious issues and involve churches and other religious organisations or associations.
The Commission will conduct regular consultation of personalities from both sides, chosen on the basis of their expertise in EU-Turkey relations.
In principle, the proposed activities will be financed under the pre-accession assistance budget for the countries concerned, supplemented if necessary by contributions from public or private institutions and the Commission. As regards budgetary programmes, candidate countries provide a contribution, which is partly covered by pre-accession funding.
The Commission will use existing structures and resources in the implementation of projects whenever possible. It adds that the streamlining of visa procedures by Member States would be welcome as regards the Turkish participants in the dialogue.
Monitoring and reporting
The Commission will ensure a regular follow up of the activities and of their results. Information will be made available on the "Europa" Internet portal. Monitoring of EU-Turkey mutual perceptions in particular will be established to guide future policy.
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This summary is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document.